Telephones have become a pervasive part of our modern age. Everyone depends upon the telephone so much for shopping and for "visiting" that not having a telephone seems barbaric. The abundance of telephones, pagers and fax machines has forced the telephone companies to split North Carolina's three area codes into six, thereby providing more numeric combinations for telephone numbers--for a while, at least.

Not too long ago, the area code was a bit of seldom-used trivia and the rotary phone was the only game in town. The museum has an example, manufactured by the Western Electric company. If you've ever had occasion to use one of these, you'll agree that a touch-tone phone is far superior when "dialing" long numbers frequently.

Initially, the type of telephone didn't really matter much. The telephone number consisted of a three or four-digit number without any identification of the exchange. Then, exchanges were identified by an alphanumeric prefix. Washington, NC, was "WHitney6" or "WH6." Calls to other parts of the country were made, of necessity, through the telephone operator. When traffic increased and exchange numbers became harder to understand in different parts of the country, the unwieldy exchange prefixes were expressed as their numeric equivalent on the dial. Thus, "WHitney6" became "946" and "BUtterfield8" became simply a movie title.

Area codes were originally assigned with a mind to making long-distance calls easier for people using rotary phones. Since "212" is easier to dial than "919," the former went to New York City and the latter to eastern North Carolina. They reasoned that since more people would need to call New York than North Carolina, they needed the number that was easier to dial. If you examine our rotary phone, you'll see what I mean.

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #22

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998